The passion and death of Jesus Christ are not even a footnote in history for those who do not acknowledge him to be anything more than a human being. To begin to grasp their significance requires faith in him and love of him. Faith makes accessible to the mind the truth of who he is and the import of what he has done. Love makes accessible to the heart the fruits of his sacrifice. What are those fruits? They are what St. Paul calls “all the blessings of heaven in Christ” which in turn can be summed up in the gift of the Holy Spirit.
But the faith and love in question are not mere human acts of virtue in the way that you might say to someone, “I believe in you” because you trust them; or in the way that you might say to another human being, “I love you.” For the limited human mind to access divine truth, God himself must enlighten our mind so that we can grasp what he is revealing to us. For the limited human heart to love Jesus in a way that penetrates into the deep mystery of his adorable heart, God himself must give is the power to love him. That light for the mind, and that power for the heart, dwell within us by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Even so, in this life in which our minds and hearts are veiled by our mortality, they can only stand astonished before the immensity of Christ’s truth and love. They are overwhelming. Before such immensity, we can only fall to our knees and adore. As the Magi fell to their knees before him in the manger, we fall to ours before him on the Cross. If it seemed impossible in mere human terms that a poor child in the manger could be the Son of God, it was even more unlikely that a condemned man hanging from the Cross could be the Saviour of the world.
And yet the wisdom and power of God are shown most fully in weakness and poverty, be it of the child or of the crucified. Our human condition is essentially weak and poor. We have all been infants and we will all die. Christ became what we are but without the vanity and make-believe which often mark our life between birth and death. And even the pride and vanity, and other forms of vice which plague our plight this side of death, these Jesus came to forgive. He drew so near to us that he took the shame and guilt and the weight and pain of our vices and of our fragility upon himself.
In our world, from earliest times, power has corrupted both political and religious establishments. We have just heard examples in the proclamation of the Passion. You hear it said that power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. I don’t think that’s true. Power in itself is a good thing; the problem is how it is used. It seems to me more correct to say that the sinful human heart corrupts power by abusing it. It was the wisdom of God, therefore, not to come to us in power because we would so easily misconstrue it. All you need do is take a look at the history of the Church and you will see how the corrupt hearts of the men of the Church have at times abused, even egregiously, the power to sanctify and save given to them by Christ.
Christ revolutionises power and makes it into loving and humble service. He turns the values of the world on their head. For him, to want to keep your life, that is, to want to determine everything about yourself and your life without listening to God, is to lose your life. Whereas to lose your life, that is, to live it as a gift from God and as God wants, is to keep it. For him, the first shall be last and the last first; whoever wants to be the greatest must be the least; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. The examples could be multiplied, but they all come down to one thing: human existence is the gift of God and can only find fulfilment in giving itself back to God, hence by living and loving, giving and forgiving, suffering and dying as God in Christ has shown us.
From this perspective, belief in Jesus Christ and love of him are the key to authentic human existence. The shape of that key is the Cross, for on it Jesus overturned the perverted logic of power, he crucified the arrogance of sin, he revealed the power of divine love and overcame human and satanic hatred, he restored a saving value to suffering of all and any kind, he decreed the forgiveness of enemies as the means to conquer them and, above all, by his utter and humble obedience to the Father, he reversed original sin and transformed death itself from being the destruction of mankind to being the doorway to paradise.
He is our Mighty Hero, our Valiant Warrior, our beloved Saviour, our noble Redeemer, our Lord, our God and our All. He is the Crucified Lover and Saviour of the human race.